Lifelong Learning @ UNB
UNB College of Extended Learning

Volunteering Helps Develop Critical Leadership Skills

Author: Glyn Jones, CRSP

Posted on May 4, 2021

Category: Professional Development

The power of volunteering has been known and well documented over the millennia. Most of the great leaders in history "cut their teeth" in volunteer roles before going on to greatness. Research now shows that volunteerism is associated with some other surprising benefits.

Chess pieces

Gordon Hinckle, a lifelong volunteer and American religious leader is quoted as saying this about volunteerism:

"One of the great ironies of life is this: He or she who serves almost always benefits more than he or she who is served."

The week of April 15-21, 2018 was national volunteer week. This year's theme was "celebrate the value of volunteering-building confidence, competence, connections, and community". What a great theme! Did you hug a volunteer and say thanks? Maybe you are a volunteer and so we say thank you.

Benefits of Volunteering

Regardless of whether you are a volunteer or aspire to be one, what you need to know is that volunteering helps you to develop critical leadership skills. I think everyone knows that part of their career success and success in life depends on developing many of the soft skills we call "leadership skills". Here are few other surprising benefits of volunteering:

Volunteering helps you build personal capacity to do even more

Research undertaken by Cassie Mogilner Holmes, associate professor of marketing at the University of California, Los Angeles' Anderson School of Management, suggests that volunteering makes it seem like you have more time. That's right...more time. Writing in the Harvard Business Review,
she reported that her research showed that people who make time to volunteer somehow feel like they have more of it. This may be because the commitment to volunteering drives you to develop better time management skills and in doing so you find you have even more free time available than ever before.

Volunteering gives you a stage on which you develop critical leadership skills

Volunteering gets you out doing things you might not ordinarily get to do. It also usually means you get a "safe stage" on which to try out new skills and new ways of thinking and doing that you would not normally risk doing at work or in your personal life. The volunteer's stage can best be described as an executive training ground for anyone who wants to take on the opportunity.

Volunteering in a new or different field helps you to develop broader skills and knowledge, making you more resilient and with greater capacity to switch jobs, careers, or even fields if the need arises.

It is well established that many large corporations invest the time of their people in community and activist volunteerism not only to give back to the community but because they know that it is an environment where their employees get the chance for skills development in technical and leadership-related areas. Volunteering is a "leadership skills development incubator".

Volunteering can help you find a job or help you find a better job

According to the authors of the study "Volunteering as a Pathway to Employment" (Corporation for National and Community Service, Office of Research and Evaluation Washington, DC, June 2013), getting involved in volunteering allows you to acquire new skills and knowledge and put them to use overtly, demonstrating your capacity and capability. Volunteering is a "demonstration sport" allowing you to showcase your skills and making you more attractive to prospective employers.

Volunteers are statistically a healthy group

In another report published by the Corporation for National & Community Service entitled "The Health Benefits of Volunteering", they suggest that research points to the fact that volunteering leads to better health. The research reports that volunteers have lower mortality rates, greater functional ability, and lower rates of depression later in life than those who do not volunteer. The reasons for this are not totally understood but the suggestion is the social value, the effort towards noble causes, and the community team-building aspects of volunteering are effective stress relievers and lead to many other positive health outcomes.

If you are ready to "up your game" and develop the transferrable leadership skills you will need for career and life success, take that first step and move from the corporate world to the volunteer-powered, not-for-profit sector. Volunteering can be the catalyst to you becoming the new you! The great leader and orator Winston Churchill said it best when he quipped:

"We make a living by what we get.
We make a life by what we give." -Winston Churchill

If you are ready to build your capacity, develop critical leadership skills, improve your employment options, and even improve your health, consider volunteering! It is time for you to give.

How can you get started?

It's remarkably easy. If you are looking for an opportunity, any one of the 38 Chapters of the Canadian Society of Safety Engineering (CSSE) is looking for volunteers. Many even have a volunteer coordinator. You don't need to be a safety engineer to be a member of CSSE: all it takes is an interest in being part of the safety community in Canada.

The CSSE is rich with volunteer opportunities at the Chapter level, on National Committees, and on the Board of Directors. Chapters are always looking for speakers, mentors, and volunteers for so many other jobs, tasks, and functions. It is volunteerism that contributes so richly to the vibrancy and value of these organizations.

Now is the time. If you aspire to be a great leader, and want to develop your leadership skills, now is the time to get your "volunteer on".

Glyn Jones is a partner at EHS Partnerships Ltd. in Calgary and a consulting occupational health and safety professional with 30 years of experience. He also provides program design and instructional support to the University of New Brunswick's OHS certificate and diploma programs.